smart spending

Find frugal -- but not cheap -- gifts

4. Give a theme gift

Gift baskets and boxes are fun for recipients and can be frugal for givers. With the many different gift-basket themes nowadays, Danger and Hoxmeier suggest finding a theme or creating a gift basket yourself that matches the special someone who needs the perfect gift.

Gift baskets and personalized gift themes:
  • The spa treatment. Search the Internet and stores to get the ingredients for a perfect at-home spa day.
  • Healthy gourmet. Bundle together healthy food and drink items or ingredients. Include a gadget to encourage healthy eating, such as a smoothie maker.
  • A night out. Make a promise of dinner and a movie, including a free night of baby-sitting.

Danger recommends purchasing baskets and containers at dollar and thrift stores and, when assembling, propping the package up with newspaper. Be sure to hide the newspaper with a lot of shredded colored paper.

5. Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk can often net big savings. Buying more than one of something isn't cheap if the thought behind it is genuine.

For example, Danger suggests using this approach if you're planning on giving several gift baskets.

"Look for items in sets that can be separated, such as a set of mugs for coffee lovers' baskets," Danger says.

As Yusa points out, some retailers allow bulk purchase pricing with items shipped to many different locations.

"This is a wonderful way to save discreetly," she says.

6. Make the thought count

In many cases, simply putting extra thought into your shopping can result in gifts that are cheaper and more personal.

"You can certainly spend less if you get the right thing," says professional organizer Elaine Bloom, owner of A Place for Everything.

For example, Bloom likes penguins. So her friends have given her penguin slippers, chopsticks, towels, cups and a hat. She's even received a penguin bath mat and fondue pot.

Shel Horowitz, author of the e-book "The Penny-Pinching Hedonist," offers some thoughtful suggestions for gifts under $20, including a magazine subscription, craft supplies, well-crafted but inexpensive jewelry, hot sauces or spices, festive party bread or cake, and organic fair-trade chocolate truffles.

Good wine can also be had for less than $20. Jayson Knack, a certified sommelier, recommends Prosecco, New Zealand pinot noir and Malbec from Argentina.

Or consider giving a treasured heirloom, says Sally Herigstad, an accountant and author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills." Grandma's tea set or a framed picture of great-grandma as a young girl are some ideas.

7. Get the family to go frugal

Sometimes, people overspend during the holidays because it's a long-standing tradition in the family. Don't be afraid to break the cycle.

"Speak openly with those you celebrate with if gift giving is getting to be too much," says Barbara Kilikevicius, author of "A Mindful Christmas."

"You may be surprised that almost everyone thinks this part of the holiday is unnecessary," she says.

Ask your family to agree to a per-person spending cap. Or better yet, draw names for a Secret Santa or Secret Hanukkah Harry, says Michael Gold, a private wealth specialist at Family Office Group.

"Trust me, your loved ones will be relieved that they won't have the daunting task of shopping and spending for so many relatives this year," Gold says.

Buying gifts for an entire family rather than individuals also works.

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Bloom suggests collecting money that would be used for gifts and instead spending it to buy gifts for needy children.

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